The hammam experience at The Royal Mansour, Marrakech
My therapist, Houda, took me to the huge and empty hammam suite at Le Spa Royal Mansour. (Only one client enters the hammam at a time unless you have booked a double treatment.) The room was warm with white marble everywhere, including a large plunge pool in the centre. Houda asked me to take off my robe, so that I was completely naked apart from my miniscule thong. We walked through some curtains into a much bigger, very humid room which was the hammam itself.
On each side of the room, there was a slab of marble the size of a double bed. I lay on one, which felt wonderful as it was super-heated; other than a folded towel beneath my head, there was nothing between me and the heated stone. Houda turned on the taps of a huge stone sink attached to the wall, so that the room was filled with the echoes of running water.
Houda left me to enjoy the warmth, and I lay contemplating the vaulted ceiling high above me, listening to the sounds. Combined with the heat and the starkness of the room, the sensation was strange but rather hypnotic. Houda returned after five minutes or so. She had tied up her hair and changed out of her therapist's clothes into short trousers and flip-flops, ready to do some cleaning -- of me!
Houda filled a large silver bowl with water from the sink and threw this gently over my torso. The water was tepid but felt pleasant because the room and the marble were so hot. She repeated this several times, aiming the water at each part of my body until I was totally soaked.
Standing over me, Houda soaped me from head to toe with black soap or Beldi, very much part of the traditional hammam experience. Made with black olive oil and vetiver, it has a texture like butter, quite unlike any soap I have used before. Houda asked me to turn over so she could soap the back of my body -- quite a tricky manoeuvre when I was soaking wet, on wet marble. I slithered about quite a lot during the course of the treatment.
Rinsing came in the form of more sluicing from the silver bowl. Next up was the exfoliation part of the hammam; the therapist puts on an abrasive mitt and scours every inch of your skin so that not a single dead skin cell remains. By this point, I had forgotten about feeling self-conscious, lying naked in front of a stranger. There is something almost relaxing about the timelessness of the process: many thousands of bodies have been sluiced and scrubbed in hammams before you.
Houda covered me with a honey-based scrub called miel d'ambre, using a circular movement all over my body. For my face, she used a gentler version named "grand illumiere", applied with the same circular movements. Houda rinsed me down again and washed me with shower gel.
Finally, I sat on the edge of the stone bed. Houda washed my hair, rinsed me down and applied conditioner. One last rinse and I was finished: shiny as a seal and spotlessly clean. Houda led me back to the large white room where we had started. She indicated that I should climb into the plunge pool which was icy cold. She told me that I would only have to stay immersed for a couple of minutes. Very gingerly, I eased myself in until I was lying on one the underwater benches. Having adjusted to the temperature, I turned over to immerse my face in the water, too. I embraced the experience and actually enjoyed it.
After a couple of minutes, Houda returned, dried me a like a child, helped me into my gown, and led me through various corridors to the relaxation room. Here were huge beds, each with their own wooden lattice screens and gold silk curtains to draw across. Houda poured some mint tea and left me to enjoy my relaxation. My whole body was tingling from the effect of the hammam and the final cold plunge.
Propped up on cushions of raw-silk, I snuggled down under my duvet. The fountain in the centre of the room provided a wonderful backdrop of sound as I drifted off.
Try this treatment if: you want an authentic and traditional Moroccan experience in unashamed luxury.